July 31, 2003

I find myself in an odd mood

Posted by TMLutas

This often happens and, stuck for other blog commentary, I thought I'd share.

Try combining the ideal of critical thinking with The Principia Discordia. Now why I'm trying to mix the two together is entirely my affair but the result seems to be entirely a win for Eris so far.


July 29, 2003

The Pact of Umar

Posted by TMLutas

This 7th century pact is a foundational document for inter-religious relations in muslim ruled societies. In some places, like Egypt, it clearly is still operational. Repairing a church is an act that still requires special permission there from the highest authorities (though they are slowly liberalizing).

It would be interesting to find out what is the position of Christians in Iraq today. Not the johnny come lately missionaries but the locals who have been there since the time of Christ. Can they build as they wish, achieve any prominence, arm themselves, build and repair their houses of worship, and express their religious opinions?

Can a muslim majority country be tolerant? I hope so.

You heard it here first

Posted by TMLutas

My article on July 24 regarding the threat of pharmaceutical companies withdrawing from countries that can export their low-cost drugs to the US seems to be moving into the mainstream. National Review has an article arguing that drug importation is good as a trade war measure to stop taking advantage of the free rider problem of R&D benefiting the world but mostly being collected on drug prices in the US.

Now I happen to agree that free riders are bad things and in a perfect world we'd do this as a liberty enhancing measure but the reality is twofold. The sponsors of this are largely economic illiterates for the most part who believe that there will be no reaction by the pharmaceuticals industry that will counter this. The next largest grouping in my estimation are those cynical enough to know that there will be a reaction and are looking to harness the inevitable controversy to push a control agenda, socializing the industry in pieces, one salami slice at a time. Thus giving in on reimportation is going to raise the stakes at the next decision point and with statists in the legislative driver's seat on this issue, the terrain for the next battle is being framed to their advantage

The article strikes me as taking lemons and making lemonade. That's good as far as it goes but with the world being rather peeved at the US at the moment, the timing of this free rider war is pretty bad. The problem is a question of priorities. I don't predict outright linkage to the War on Terror but a general increase in irritation and a draining of public funds to pay for those more expensive drug prices is bound to have a bad effect in some countries that are currently sitting on the fence.

July 28, 2003

Is the US trying for something different than a Pax Americanus?

Posted by TMLutas

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.

Everybody seems to be looking at Iraq, Afghanistan too for that matter, through the framework of a colony in the making. We look to Rome, to England, even to Carthage for inspiration to make sense of it all. I can't count the number of times I've hear Pax Americana.

I suggest that what might be happening is something altogether different. We are attempting to plant a liberty tree, an altogether tricky business. We will not always be in these countries to provide it with its natural manure, and in a real sense, we can never do so as we are foreign to the soil and though our soldiers' sacrifice may be many things, it simply does not serve to nourish this tree. But what can? Iraqi blood, shed in the cause of liberty. Iraqi blood, tyrants blood struck down trying to regain power.

In a way, I think US forces are waiting for Iraqis to step up and push them aside, not to overthrow them, but to make their own soccer fields, their own infrastructure improvements, their own watch against the tyrants who creep in the night. I am not sure if this is purposeful strategy or something buried so deeply in the character of America that it is just unconscious. They are waiting to be stopped and told, "no, we do this for ourselves, not because we hate you but because it is our job, not yours". They are waiting for Burke's little platoons to make their appearance.

Does anybody read Burke in Iraq?

The beginning of the end for planned obsolescence

Posted by TMLutas

Replacing well engineered, durable parts with cheap ones that break and cost so much in labor to fix that you're better off just buying a new appliance is an old manufacturer's trick. But what if you could make your own replacement parts? The strategy no longer works because with your own parts, you can replace them yourself and not be stuck having to pay for the repairman that is attached to those custom parts you can't order yourself.

This has wide implications all across the manufacturing economy. As these 3D printers get perfected, they will come down in price and win a wider and wider market, reducing the need to hire craftsman (though increasing the need for do-it-yourself classes). It would also tend to reduce the amount of stock that a hardware store has to keep on hand. all they would need would be very large, very efficient 3D printers of their own to manufacture a large proportion of their own stock without the need for wholesalers. Home Depot might still carry highly durable tools that a 3D printer can't make but to some extent the Home Depot of the future will resemble Kinkos, a service bureau.

I'll need to think about it more but it seems that this sort of thing makes disarmament schemes completely impractical in a society with privacy and freedom of speech. You could build your own guns. Volatile components for ammunition might be a problem but I don't doubt that this is something that would be solved fairly easily for low muzzle velocity ammunition.

The Koran changes

Posted by TMLutas

Islam has a fragility that is quite unlike Judaism and Christianity. The majority of believers hold the theological position that the only change made to the Koran since it was first written was the later addition of pronunciation marks and that not one word, not one syllable has been added or subtracted and nothing has been shifted around that would change meanings. This, they claim, compares favorably with the 'lying scribes' who have altered and changed the Jewish and Christian holy texts to fit their convenience, not God's (this also resolves, in Islam's favor, any discrepancies between the Koran and the Bible).

In discussing this, I've personally seen the veracity and unchanging nature of the Koran backed up with the most serious religious statement possible, the promise of conversion away from the faith if it were ever found to have been changed over time.

Thus we have a significant religious claim that can actually be historically verified or falsified, at least in theory and which could convulse the muslim world, with those who are more inclined toward Islamism being far more susceptible to disruption than their more moderate and liberal counterparts who can see a wider path of Islam.

But all this is so much speculation unless early koranic texts that differ from the modern koran have been found. Well, they have, and the idea that somebody copyedited God has people scared.

Establishing that the Koran has a history, when Islam claims it does not levels the playing field between the Christian/Islamic debate as most christians admit the historical record, that the Bible has a history.

But establishing that koranic writings were assembled and developed, also has a disparate effect on the various strains of Islam and most strengthens muslim liberals at the expense of Islamists and other inflexible muslim fundamentalists. Like the old millenarian christians who set a date for the 2nd coming, when the testable statements are falsified, that movement tends to die out.

The political use of religious debates has a long history. "God is on our side" is possibly one of the oldest political tactics known to man. Discrediting a violent, religious based, political movement has got to be the fundamental strategy of the resistance to Islamist aggression. If a challenge to Islam is presented that only the more peaceful moderates and liberals have an answer to, the hard line extremists will be left unable to adjust and will die away. They can threaten to kill researchers and publishers but that can't hide the truth for long.

July 26, 2003

Why we really need to get off oil

Posted by TMLutas

Energy pricing (like most other pricing) is an exercise in change at the margin (Jude Wanniski's The Way the World Works is an eye opener). You don't have to change over an entire infrastructure to get radical change in the energy market, you just have to move the demand curve to the left by incrementally shifting to a new infrastructure and watch as prices drop for old style energy. If you can drop the price ceiling sufficiently, the old energy source is no longer used, no matter how plentiful it is. You can go to Norway and buy whale oil but it isn't very economic anymore because its marginal cost at any significant usage would be very, very high. Shifting to the right can be just as economy changing and often in a very bad way if supply stays static.

So what's the magic new energy infrastructure and why should we switch? Hydrogen (combined with the hydrogen fuel cell) and because we (the world) can't afford to be this energy poor anymore. 1st world security is likely to require the demand curve for energy is going to end up shifting right, way, way right.

First, Hydrogen: Hydrogen has the advantage of being everywhere. You can get it from most energy sources. Hydrogen driven fuel cells are starting to replace batteries and generators so it isn't your usual pie in the sky alternative energy scheme. Products are starting to ship today and more are likely to follow soon. Because this switch is economics motivated and not politically motivated, we have the luxury of going forward with development without as much risk of becoming a total white elephant.

Pretty much any energy source can be converted into hydrogen. What are currently waste streams (animal, plant, and waste product biomass for example) all of a sudden become marketable energy sources because you no longer need to modify motors to use one of several specific types of fuel. Hydrogen's ubiquity means that even without fuel conversion to hydrogen before you pump it into your fuel reservoir fuel cells can run on a lot of different fuels with the addition of various fuel processors. Various alternative fuels that individually can't make the cut as a mass replacement for petroleum can all feed into the same hydrogen infrastructure and collectively do some good.

But why do we need so much more energy? Well, a very bright professor by the name of Thomas Barnett noticed that the US military keeps going back to the same places again and again.

The places that keep falling apart and require military intervention to prop up shared some characteristics. They were poor, they weren't integrating into the global system for one reason or another, and they kept attracting trouble both internally and from other areas. A new set of rules is required to understand these countries and go about the problem of solving them because these are the places that terrorists will hide and these are the places that will end up breeding new problems for the US unless they are shifted from the "non-integrating gap" to the "functioning core" of countries with which we may have disagreements but generally have enough stake in the system that diplomats and not troops are the proper response.

To cut a very long story short, we need to improve the 3rd world and we need to do it soon before the cost of truly scary weapons like a genetically engineered plague or nuclear weapons become easily affordable for rich crazies like Osama bin Laden. At that point, it won't be safe for failed states to exist anywhere in the world to provide a safe haven sufficient for a private nuclear weapons program to happen.

Getting rid of the third world by integrating them into the globalizing economic system and raising their standard of living is going to radically change worldwide energy use patterns, shifting the energy demand curve to the right. Frankly speaking, we probably don't have enough sources of energy available if we limit ourselves to a petroleum economy. The status quo is unsustainable if we want to quickly shrink the number of failed states which threaten us.

So hydrogen buys us some time in the short term, bringing underused potential energy sources into the mainstream market. It also buys us time because fuel cells are not Carnot (heat) engines and thus are not subject to the limits of the Carnot engine and so are more efficient at temperatures used in most engines (see chart in the link). Where carnot engines are 30% efficient (around where a lot of internal combustion engines land), fuel cells are 80% efficent at the same temperature.

But Hydrogen is also useful because once we have a new multifuel friendly energy production stream we no longer have the chicken and the egg problem of new infrastructure for each minor new idea. You just take your energy and convert to hydrogen to use existing infrastructure. It lowers the barrier to new solutions, a good thing in and of itself.

And we need new solutions because as the 3rd world gets good governments that didn't screw up their own economies energy prices will soon be bid through the roof, collapsing much of the world economy if nothing is done to increase supply.

Now it is likely that the solution to this problem will not be monolithic. Part of it is going to be efficient use of current energy sources (like retiring old, inefficent soviet era infrastructure all over the old Soviet bloc territories), nuclear energy (like the new pebble bed reactors that are physically impossible to melt down even with zero coolant), and exotic new sources like beamed solar from outside our atmosphere (there are orbital and lunar variants on this).

That last deserves a special mention because it has the potential to scale high enough to be a major player on its own, without aggregation. Beamed solar is useful because it doesn't suffer from three of the great problems that will always doom terrestrial solar power. Solar stations in orbit or on the moon get much more intense sunlight than the equivalent cell gets here. Solar cells in orbit or on the moon aren't likely to crowd out any other uses for that space so scaling them to useful proportions is no problem as long as the power is cheap enough, and outside the atmosphere, solar power doesn't have to worry about cloud cover.

The catch? As usual, it's the cost (in this case, largely the launch cost). The only thing that offers launch costs low enough to make them practical would be a space elevator. It's a really good thing then that somebody is building one. But that's a rant for another day.

July 24, 2003

Wanted: a Department of Anarchy

Posted by TMLutas

Every statist in the world has at one time or another called private enterprise solutions anarchy. They just can't see how things such as food production, heavy industry, road transport, or many other services could ever be accomplished as something other than a pure state system. And clearly there are some things that nobody has successfully figured out how to privatize in the modern age (like the military or concluding treaties with foreign powers). But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. This, in essence, is the argument of minarchy, the idea that the government which governs best, governs least.

Obviously the name must go (though there would be something delightfully wicked in having a DoA issuing edicts terminating bureaucracies "sorry, you're DoA'd") but there's something to be said for a permanent department whose sole task is to privatize the function of every other government bureaucracy.

It would create an institutional force during budget and authorization times for the provision of obvious social goods via private arrangement and would allow old, no longer useful sections of the government to come under quick scrutiny and be recommended for Congressional action to eliminate or executive order to eviscerate the useless bureaucratic parasites.

So what's wrong with the private equivalents of a DoA? Unlike many free market ideologues, minarchists are practical in the sense that if the private alternatives aren't working, shifting effort into government action isn't verboten but may be a temporary necessity until we can figure out how to get the job done without forcible taxation.

Right now, the job of keeping our freedom is slowly being lost on many fronts as traditional small government forces abandon fiscal discipline and few care to go through the fight necessary to evict even minor expenditures. Jim Nussle and the government oversight committee are a step in the right direction but more is needed because government reform is about spending smarter while the DoA would be about how to transition to not spending at all out of the taxpayer's purse.

I would expect a DoA to eventually privatize itself and perhaps be brought back into the govt. fold when the further descendants of a free people draw close to losing their freedom to government growth once again. There is now no real institutional constituency in government for less government. There should be.

A threat to Canadian medicine?

Posted by TMLutas

While conservative US opponents are being unfair to the Canada's record on medicine safety with bogus worries about counterfeit drugs raining down from up north, they have noted one hidden danger of note to Canadians, that the Canadian market is so small that continuing to operate in it under a reimportation regime would lead to net losses because so much product shipped to Canada would come back to the US as to eviscerate pharmaceutical industry profitability. This has happened already to Glaxo has already taken action but, not wanting to make the economic case, has cited health and safety issues. Others, like Merck are likely to follow suit.

Glaxo's problem is that they don't want to explicitly make the case for the dead and dying a decade from now from depressed profits today. But it isn't tomorrow's victims alone that exist, it's today's because the actions a decade or more ago are costing lives today as drugs could have been discovered years earlier if the pharma industry had had more widespread free market conditions.

quotation note: The observant reader will notice that I'm linking to Bernie Sanders' site, a man who I have little in common with and would not shake his hand if I met him (socialists have too much blood on them for me to be comfortable with).

I've received some private criticism about such links and links where I don't 100% agree with the article but thought it a useful example of where a major political pole was headed. I've decided that I don't agree with limiting links in this fashion, that it would create an echo chamber effect and just not be either practical or fun. And until somebody starts paying me, it needs to at least be fun.

July 23, 2003

Zahra Kazeri update

Posted by TMLutas

The prosecutor in charge of the security forces who are accused of beating Zahra Kazeri to death has been put in charge of the investigation.

It's too sad for words really. It's a little early to turn to Iran before Iraq is fully freed from Baathist terror but...

faster please

Visible victims, hidden victims

Posted by TMLutas

One of the major problems of humanity is how to decide between today's suffering victims and future victims? Do you spend resources to help people today or invest to aid even more sufferers tomorrow? This problem crops up in many fields of human endeavor, including medicine.

New medicines are discovered not by accident, but by purposefully testing many thousands of substances and poring over previous tests to discover whether a substance rejected for one purpose is useful for another. It is a massive undertaking that works by brute forcing the problem. Promising substances enter the approval process which resembles a funnel with fewer and fewer substances passing through each stage and a slow trickle of new miracle cures popping out the end.

Widening the funnel by testing more substances in the same time increases the number of new medicines approved a decade later while narrowing it by testing fewer substances means that a decade later people die who wouldn't otherwise.

The funnel is fed by the money given by investors to fund new companies and by customers who pay for current medicines to established firms. Increase profits and give stockholders a better then average rate of return and new entrants will pour into the market and additional stock will be issued to pay for more substances to be tested per month.

Conversely, if you reduce the rate of return via price controls, good ideas for new medicines will not be funded and existing companies will gut R&D to maintain profitability. Today, government price controls are the biggest factor in reducing industry profitability and today people are dying because a decade ago, people got reduced prices for their medicines and inevitably the number of substances tested declined. A decade from now, people will be dying because of the price controlled pills that are prevalent in most of the world are starving the industry of income to find the next generation of cures.

So why does this happen? Simple, it's cheaper and easier for politicians to rob the future ill of their cures in a way that will not be politically punished than to come up with the money to pay for medicines that some find difficult, even impossible to pay for on their own. It's a dishonest, irresponsible thing to do but it won't end until the voters won't stand for it anymore.

The end game will be when all major markets are subject to price controls and the industry can't soak the remaining free markets for the R&D expenses that should have been spread out throughout the world. Perhaps the current drug importation bill will mark the beginning of the end.

Off with his leg

Posted by TMLutas

I'm in a medical mood today so here's a bizarre tale about the consequences of abandoning the hippocratic oath. Apparently 87% of doctors in the US don't ever take the oath, something that astonishes most laymen when we first hear of it. And with self-disfigurement disorders and suicide on the table, a doctor who can't be counted on to say no is downright frightening.

July 22, 2003

The horns of a Middle East dilemma?

Posted by TMLutas

Play along for a second and let's go back a year or two in a time machine. Let's say that the threat picture for the US is that Iran and Syria are considered to be the foremost physical sponsors of terrorism and Saudi Arabia is considered the financier of terror with a very complex relationship with the US (even more so than the rest of that complex region). Saddam Hussein is mostly in a box but he obviously wants out and with France, Germany, and Russia on his side eventually he's going to get out.

An invasion of Saudi Arabia is out of the question. The Saudi oil fields are too highly at risk and the blow to the oil consuming world economy would be too great even if war would leave the fields entirely intact.

An invasion of Iran would kill the democracy movement there and would also bring great turmoil to world oil markets in the run up to war. The mullahs only salvation is national unity prompted by invasion.

Syria, while not much of an oil state, is too far away to solve more than the problem of Syria itself and will bring implementation problems with it. Invading Iraq means bringing up the ghosts of Desert Storm. Invading Syria means going through Lebanon and awakening the ghosts of Beirut 1983. There is one alternative left and it's perfect.

An invasion of Iraq and setting up a free, democratic republic on each of these other states' borders makes perfect sense in defanging all of these threats. It definitively takes care of the threat of Saddam Hussein. Syria ducks and covers because it finds itself surrounded by hostile regimes with only its satrapy Lebanon for local comfort. Iran already has a tremendous problem with its youth and middle class wanting an end to theocracy, a secular, successful Iraqi government would end mullah rule there. And Saudi Arabia? With Iraq no longer a threat, US troops would not have to be there anymore but the House of Saud could not stand the whirlwind of discontent unleashed by a neighbor whose government is honest and worked. The instrument of unrest would undoubtedly be the same forces bedeviling the US so their funding of terror would die out over time as they come to this realization.

Now let's come back to the present and see whether our time machine showed us a fanciful picture show or today's reality fits this past we've seen. Syria *is* ducking and covering, Iran is in the grip of growing unrest and desperately intervening in Iraq to try to sabotage Iraq's transition to a democratic republic and keep the occupation troops there longer (something that seems counterintuitive without context), and Saudi Arabia no longer has US troops in it (supposedly the chief problem the Islamists had with them) yet has come under the harshest terrorist threat ever. Saudi anti-terrorist action has ceased to be a joke and is moving towards more meaningful cooperation.

The objection is immediately raised, why not just lay out this case to the world? Why go through all the other (also true) justifications of Saddam's butchery, spreading democracy as a moral matter, chemical, biological, and nuclear threats, Saddam's aggressive history, etc?

The problem is that the Middle East culture (if such a large place can be said to have a monolithic culture) is generally a shame culture. If you are seen to be acting in your own interest, that's one thing but be seen as doing so under pressure, as a lackey of a foreign power, and you must change course or fall even if changing course profoundly risks your position anyway. You cannot be shamed and survive.

This leaves the Bush administration in a tight spot. Democrats need to dirty up the Iraq triumph using any means necessary and the surface reasons are not surviving the effort without damage. That damage will continue for partisan reasons. Politically, if the Bush administration doesn't repair their case for war they're in trouble in 2004.

But if they lay out the real case, an elegant bank shot that plays off of Middle East psychology and neutralizes four threats with one military operation the operation itself becomes undone because shame and pride will force the players to act against their own (and the US') best interests. So we end up stuck playing at justifying shadow motivations and political opportunists who either don't see the real strategy or don't care about the national interest ankle biting in order to gain power.

Update: Stratfor (whose Iraq reporting was instrumental to my discernment of US strategy in Iraq) had this to say in its Morning Intelligence Report in my email box

"Officials in Riyadh on Monday said 16 suspected militants had been arrested and 20 tons of bomb-making supplies had been literally unearthed in a four-day sweep in areas of Riyadh, Qassim and the Eastern Province. Saudi Interior Ministry officials announced the seizure of trucks prepared for converting into bombs and that a search was ongoing for additional suspects. Facing an opposition able to stockpile at least 20 tons of explosives, the Saudi government no longer needs much encouragement from the United States to continue its crackdown."

Funny enough, Stratfor doesn't quite 'get' the problem of why the Bush administration doesn't just blurt out its strategy. They remain puzzled over that aspect of current events.

Will Russia step off the Kyoto cliff?

Posted by TMLutas

With the Kyoto environmental accord, there's signature, ratification, and actually following the treaty. Signing is easy, if you don't intend to ratify. Ratification is easy, if you don't intend to follow the requirements, and finally, following the requirements is easy if your economy happens to have imploded since the treaty start date of 1990. The stronger your economic growth is, the less likely you will be able to fit into the Kyoto restriction regime.

Russia has signed but not ratified and the EU is putting the pressure on. As the article notes, 10 of the 15 EU states are simply out of compliance, thus making a mockery of the whole process but their noncompliance makes it clear that actually reducing pollution is not the intent of the exercise.

July 21, 2003

Casualty economics

Posted by TMLutas

Stratfor has an interesting piece in its subscriber only section on the prospects for the dollar. The holiday on the strong dollar policy is apparently over and the dollar is set to rise. One of the moderating factors which will mean the dollar's rise will be slower than its fall is the situation in Iraq. Apparently there is a significant chunk of the investor community that believes Iraq is a quagmire in the making. At the same time, these same investors believe Chechnya is a manageable situation for Russia.

It turns out that the Russians have lost more men this month than the US has lost during the past three months (May 1 - Present) plus Russia has something of a reputation for hiding its problems and low balling its official casualty figures. The Democrat/media drumbeat of negativity is creating economic bad news for the US via market distortion. I wonder if anybody's going to catch on and punish them for it?

UK report out on GM agriculture

Posted by TMLutas

The UK's GM Science Review panel has just come out with their first report today. For a government report covering such a technical subject, it's actually not that hard to read, remarkably it seems to try its best to use english and not some jargon loaded bureaucratese, though clearly some boilerplate had been mandated from the start.

One little section in the report jumped out at me. 3rd world urbanization and attendant rising standards of living there are likely over the next two decades to double the worldwide meat requirement (Section 5.5.2 in the report). Since mad cow disease has led to the banning of animal feed containing animal protein over much of the world, this leaves GM needing to play a significant role in enabling that projected worldwide rise in meat consumption.

Racial interlopers, the next generation

Posted by TMLutas

In the old, segregationist South, the racists often talked about outsiders stirring up trouble and that if those interlopers would only stay home, there would be no race problem.

In an official letter, on Congressional letterhead Congressman Dingell from Michigan just made the exact same arguments as Orville Faubus, George Wallace, and the rest of the segregationist roll call of shame in writing Ward Connerly to stay out of Michigan. National Review has an analysis of the sad tale as well as Ward Connerly's response.

Now it would be disgusting enough if Congressman Dingell would write a letter in his private capacity to advocate such repugnant beliefs. But doing it on franked, official letterhead means that as a US taxpayer I paid for a small fraction of that and that makes it very much worse.

July 19, 2003

SCO, the boil on the rear end of the IT industry

Posted by TMLutas

Do you remember the annoying nerdy kid in high school? Now imagine him twice as annoying, dumb to boot, and with a plan to take over the world via lawsuit. That is today's SCO (Santa Cruz Operation).

SCO owns the rights to Sys V UNIX (at least probably) and claims that IBM (whose IP rights protection unit may outnumber SCO's entire roster of employees) illegally transferred technology licensed from SCO (really it's predecessor in owning the IP) into Linux, thus violating the terms of its license to make and distribute AIX, IBM's Sys V derivative UNIX.

Since IBM is laughing in their face over these violation of contract claims, SCO has announced it's pulled IBM's AIX license which means a good chunk of world industry does not have a valid license to run their mission critical systems if SCO is to be believed. Not many people believe.

So far, we have a very high stakes, garden variety contract dispute but for SCO it's all about the FUD. They have, at various times, referred to copyright, trade secret, and patent violations in Linux and have threatened to sue anybody who uses the stuff, though so far it's all legal threats and no papers have been filed against Linux per se.

Now, SCO proposes to create a Linux licensing program that essentially asserts that they won't sue anybody who pays them. In any country with a reasonable "loser pays" judicial rule, they would get few takers but they are aiming at the US which lacks such a rule and it's very easy to be bankrupt by frivolous legal action.

the Unix world has seen this all before with the USL v. BSD lawsuit that led to trivial changes in BSD (and in exchange for the USL violations of BSD copyright to be forgiven), the absolute stop of BSD's market momentum and the decision of a Finnish programmer to avoid lawyers and write a UN*X work alike instead called Linux. Oh well, it worked for awhile.

Back to SCO, it has to know that the practical effect of this renaissance of vicious UNIX litigation is to make none of the players win and the only winner be Microsoft. After all, that's what happened the first time around in the incredibly complex tale of the UNIX wars. It is unlikely that a judge will order a significant chunk of the biggest businesses on the planet to destroy or return all copies of AIX and thus take down their mission critical systems that depend on it. Given that SCO has not actually released the code that is allegedly infringing, it's very difficult to figure out whether the offending code had an AT&T pedigree or a BSD one. So what's SCO's game? It likely wants to be such a big annoyance that somebody buys them just to shut down the lawsuit machine.

July 18, 2003

Europe's population implosion

Posted by TMLutas

On the 14th, I tangentially mentioned the european problem of a population implosion and did 'research by Google', quickly searching the first few google links to get a high fact content backup to the allegation. I should have dug deeper. Here's a better article that makes the same point that comes for a more reputable source.

Can European pride withstand being a long-term shrinking influence in the world? Which way are the straight line projections going to be wrong?

Reagan the craven, Bush the cowardly?

Posted by TMLutas

I normally like Victor Davis Hanson but his effort today has got to be one of his weaker ones. How often do you find Reagan being criticized as an appeaser in an US mainstream right wing publication? Yet there it is.

But foreign policy is not the only area of US policy that is seriously out of whack and by applying Hanson's analysis, any politician who compromises to form a winning coalition in other areas can later be called a coward or an appeaser. This certainly includes the present occupant of the White House.

When the history of racial preferences is finally written after they are killed off, should GWB's timid brief in the Michigan case be called craven? When US public pension funds explode in an unsustainable sea of red ink is it fair to strongly condemn GWB for not solving the problem as promised?

This road leads to a destination of no heroes to emulate, no good men in politics because none hold firm all the time. The US system forces compromise. To ignore the greater good enabled by a compromise is not proper historical analysis because it ignores context. Reagan did cut and run in Beirut but his larger military record is one of reversing the Carter era perception of US weakness both in the US and without.

Well we coulda impeached him but...

Posted by TMLutas

Bob Graham has launched the next trial balloon in the campaign to dirty up President Bush for next year's election. I can see the next step of the campaign already. "If we only had more Democrat House members, we would have presented all our evidence but now you, the voter, have the job of fixing that".

Good news for Asia's economy

Posted by TMLutas

OPEC, and especially Saudi Arabia, have worked the asian oil market hard, creating an "Asia premium" on oil prices that has ranged as high as $3/bl. This has meant extra billions in OPEC coffers with oil consuming businesses in Asia paying the price. Stratfor in their e-mailed intelligence brief has noted that Israel's TIPLine oil pipeline has recently finished some modifications that spell the end of the Asia premium. Russia is constrained by Turkey's (possibly illegal according to the WW I settlements) Bosphorus tanker regulations to shipping oil in small tankers that simply are uneconomic to use beyond local transport. Israel falls within the practical Russian tanker zone so now oil can be unloaded on Israel's Meditteranean coast in smaller Russian tankers, transshipped via the TIPLine and reloaded into conventional long-haul supertankers in the Red Sea at the port of Eilat for further shipment to Asia.

Stratfor's story seems to be for subscribers only but a cut and paste of the article is available, unfortunately without attribution. Naughty Evgeny.

Canadian/Iranian journalist beaten to death?

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to James Taranto's Best of the Web for giving a wider audience to the arrest and possible beating death of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist. Her son wishes an independent autopsy performed but Iranian officials are not permitting it.

Mrs. Kazemi's crime seems to have been photographing a prison. What is Iran so ashamed about regarding its penal system?

July 17, 2003

Mark Steyn misunderstands the Democrat's Niger attack

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Steyn writes that Bush won't be hurt by the current assault over Niger yellowcake uranium. He's wrong. Bush is vulnerable on this, if he turns out to have lied.

Some have argued that the Republicans are the daddy party and the Democrats are the mommy party. This is somewhat true, but incomplete. To be more accurate, the Republicans are the independence, honest, don't tread on me party while the Democrats are the bring home the bacon, compassionate, humane party. When there is no major external threat, who cares to pay the price for a don't tread on me attitude but likewise, who cares how much bacon we have if we never get to enjoy it, having been blown up by our enemies.

Both parties get in trouble when they are viewed as violating their core beliefs. Democrats are frantic to avoid framing school choice as compassionate for school children because then their defense of teacher union position would fatally weaken them. Likewise, attacks on Republican honesty have a disproportionate effect on Republican electoral chances. The Democrats have always promised to bring home the bacon, not that the bacon that they brought home was theirs. The white lie for compassion's sake is also an acceptable Democrat tradeoff.

That's why the Niger yellowcake story is important, it directly attacks a Republican core feature and Democrat strategists have gone after the one that would uniquely affect someone with the surname Bush, the honesty factor. The Democrat hope is that the "read my lips" betrayal of Bush the father would be revisited on the son. It also explains why Bush's spending extravaganza is threatening to Democrats as well. If Republicans are now compassionate conservatives who bring home the bacon, that doesn't leave much reason to pull the Democrat lever.

Neither party is acting as crazy as some observers seem to think they are. They're just engaging in the timeless classic political game, guard your base, extend your coalition. So far, it looks like President Bush is winning. In that assessment, Mark Steyn does get it right.

July 16, 2003

State Department victim of war on cryptography

Posted by TMLutas

A letter to the editor with forged headers fooled the Washington Times into publishing an e-mail hoax and embarrassing the State Department. E-mail is currently usually transmitted using plain text character encoding with no inherent security. This makes standard e-mail the electronic equivalent of paper postcards, able to be read by anyone and copied/altered by anyone.

In most circumstances, this is quite convenient for the State as electronic eavesdropping is easily done with minimal computing power. The electronic equivalent to an envelope, signature, and seal is cryptography, in various forms and variants. Document forgery is very, very difficult when digitally signed. It's too bad, in a way, there are digital signature software programs available for free that would have solved this problem without a single penny having to be disbursed from the Treasury.

Human Rights Watch decries trials for war criminals

Posted by TMLutas

Yes, sad but true Human Rights watch has decided that even prior to any selections of judges, juries, legal codes to be used, or any possible impropriety actually showing up, that Iraq's provisional Council is to be condemned for seeking justice for the victims of Saddam. Only 'impartial', 'international experts' are fit to decide Saddam's culpability.

Can anybody imagine such statements being made about the US in the 1960's, or all over E. Europe in the 1990's? Why was S. Africa not subject to such pressures after the apartheid regime? Can it be that there is a specific opinion, a specific prejudicial opinion about arabs and arab justice that is motivating HRW? After all, what evidence exists that Iraqis are incapable of justice? The only evidence is the behavior of the Baath party itself which says nothing about the rest of Iraq. "Those arabs, they're all alike" is not a fitting attitude for an organization that sets itself up to watch over human rights

note: I'm trying to be nice as Iraqis are not all arab and the alternative 'those brown skinned middle easterners are all alike' sounds much, much worse. Better alternative constructions belong in Flitters. Have fun.

July 15, 2003

Ethnic humor, EU style

Posted by TMLutas

On the surface, Europe has gone a bit ethno-crazy and bigoted. France's Chirac tells all of eastern Europe that they are poorly raised children, Italy and Germany are trading barbed insults and it seems only a matter of time before cries of 'perfidious Albion' enter into the fray (if I haven't missed it already being launched).

On reflection, the ethno follies seem to be more than just foolish expressions of national pride. These are serious thinkers, major movers and shakers that have guided their nations toward an ambitious european unity project that is breathtaking in breadth and depth. So what gives?

Ethnic name calling has a vast and storied existence in european culture on all sides. It has always been held in reserve by savvy politicians of all ideological persuasions who use it to create a diversion, an outside force to focus popular discontent on and safely vent without bringing down their own rule. So far, so good, and if the occasional war breaks out because of it, that's a growth opportunity if handled right. The EU project was in large part intended to cut out the wars because they ended up being bad for business as european states had gotten too good at it for the continent to survive another round.

But what about the need for a boogie man? The Turks, the US, non-EU european nations have all been good for awhile but life is getting tough for the EU politician.

The US is dangerous to trifle with post 9/11 as EU exporters and France's tourist sector are discovering. The Turks are toying with islamic politics and might possibly turn into a real threat for the first time in decades, and even non-EU states are starting to be tricky to insult as they enter the EU and gain international prestige as Poland has in Iraq (it will take some time for the germans to recover from the idea of sending troops to be under polish command). Russia is becoming all of Europe's energy supplier so kicking the bear, even when it's down, is not as risk free as it once was.

So we have cancelled vacations by Schroeder and "Spaghetti Head" headlines as the euro-press gets into the act. But why now? Frankly, the EU is in a spot of trouble and blowing off steam may save some politicians their jobs.

The ECB has announced it will no longer be dropping rates and criticized various EU states for not reforming their bloated social programs to something that might actually be sustainable given the EU's impending population implosion and relatively low economic growth rates compared to what they need to handle their greying population.

As tensions rise within EU nations because of needed reforms that betray social promises made in the past, look for infantile displays to have a renewed popularity. Let's just hope that the delicate task of distraction doesn't end up being taken too seriously.

July 14, 2003

Only 13%-23% of Palestinians are irredentist

Posted by TMLutas

A new article from the Independent gives some polling results that should give normal jews encouragement and take some wind out of the sails of their own extremists. Only 13% of palestinians would rather be in the camps waiting for Israel to disappear and another 10% would like to live in Israel (whether as palestinian arabs or as a vanguard for the destruction of Israel is not available data). The largest portion, 54% would like to live in a Palestinian state with others liking to live in the country their refugee camps are at.

Palestinian extremists were notably unhappy and beat workers at the polling organization who did the survey and ransacked their offices (the headline of the piece). The Independent swallowed the lead though. Palestinians demographically overwhelming jews has long been the scariest of Israeli boogiemen and with this survey, it looks as if this is simply not going to happen without forced palestinian repatriation into Israel. The roadmap just started looking a bit more practical.

An homage to dullness

Posted by TMLutas

Ari Fleischer's leaving today and National Review has a nice article on his 3 year tenure. Ari also let on that he's a good sport by being able to evade, yet giving in, to an end of tenure soaking.

Time does an environmental policy hit piece

Posted by TMLutas

Time Magazine has just published a doom and gloom piece on US energy prospects. Unfortunately for them, their straight line projection on hydrogen is severely lacking in data. While hydrogen power and fuel cells have been around for decades and have been touted in past plans, they didn't have any shipping or near shipping products at that time.

Clearly we're getting to the point where alternatives to the oil economy are becoming economic and not just political priorities. Time's stuck in full reactionary mode with this piece, crying out permanent doom when the light at the end of the tunnel is finally visible. From here on in, oil has an effective price ceiling because conversion to hydrogen is becoming more and more of an option.

Disruptive Technology I

Posted by TMLutas

I originally had a very nice and long note I wrote on disruptive technologies, what they are and some analysis of this article. Movable Type seems not to like articles that long. Read the above referred article, it's great. In short, GPS is going to change our world in ways you might expect and ways that will take you by surprise. It's not just for smart bombs and for soldiers who don't want to read a map anymore.

(UPDATE: I fixed it. --BR)

Most technologies are introduced and work on "S curves" where they increase efficiency over time very slowly at first (often starting out as being less efficient that pre-existing alternatives), then take off very rapidly and finally flatten out their progress as the technology becomes mature. If the steep portion of the S curve is long enough, the technology becomes disruptive, changing the degree of efficiency in its current task so that entirely new kinds of things become possible and old assumptions are better thrown out the window.

I just read an interesting article about one of the less appreciated disruptive technologies of our time, GPS. GPS, for those who are less familiar with it, solves the problem of location, 'where is'. Where am I, where is the border, where is my shipment, where is my wife, all perfectly pedestrian questions but up until GPS came around we were willing to live with very imprecise answers because as a practical matter, you couldn't afford to maintain the effort to answer such questions with precision all the time.

On an intimate note, now we can tell where our children are within a few feet and get that answer quickly, easily, at any time day or night. This gives parents an entirely new set of dilemmas to choose, when should children have 'free' time to start growing and flexing their independence? GPS transponder systems provide the ability to make this dilemma more than an idle fantasy. This is a current future application but it's only the conservative impulse that prevents deployment of such systems today, the technology is ready.

In the commercial arena, this permits a much higher degree of precision in transport, in placing resources from concrete to beehives, and in inventory applications everywhere. Commerce seems to be the current leg of GPS deployment that is entering its major disruptive phase. A key figure is deployment rates (next year, they're projected to deploy as many GPS devices as the previous 25 years have seen deployed).

GPS effects on agriculture will be huge as price comes down. The efficiency effects on 1st world agriculture are high but as it becomes more and more affordable for poorer and poorer farmers, food supplies will be going up as required labor goes down. This is disruptive economically but also politically as rural voting blocs and interests are a common basic building bloc of democratic polities and rural depopulation is a major fear behind the creation and maintenance of the EU CAP for example. Increased food supplies and price crashes also tend to knock the wind out of the malthusians with their overpopulation fears.

All in all an interesting read.

July 12, 2003

Cuba jams Iranian expat broadcasts

Posted by TMLutas

Cuba now has been identified as the agency that has been jamming Iranian expat broadcasts into Iran. This theocrat/atheist alliance seems powered on a cuban love for iranian oil and a mutual hatred of the US. More evidence that anti-americanism conquers all.

Where next on the witch hunt parade

Posted by TMLutas

Now that George Tenet has taken responsibility for the, now demonstrated false, Niger uranium accusations, what's the next on the witch hunt parade? Clearly, the Democrat strategy of creating the impression that the Iraq war was illegitimate will continue but it's pretty thin broth and getting thinner.

With stories about the "Sunni Triangle" regularly coming out, its become clear that the attacks are only coming from the most unsympathetic of minorities, Sunni Arabs who disproportionately benefited from Saddam's bloodstained regime. Kurds seem focused on rebuilding their areas, not committing revenge killings, and while Shia unhappiness with their post-Saddam progress gets stirred by Iranian agents, their greatest difficulties seem looting related, something almost useless for Democrat political ambitions.

Oh well, maybe the upcoming Iraqi anniversary spree will provide sufficient gore or tales of black unemployment will fire up the Democrat base. If they don't, the Democrats might have the unthinkable on their hands, a Republican dominated government with insufficient Democrat Senate votes to reliably hold a filibuster. The US era of divided government will be over.

July 11, 2003

Al-Qaeda fire bugs?

Posted by TMLutas

According to prisoner information western US forests have been on the Al Queda target list. The thought is to set timed incendiary devices and create such a huge conflagration that US resources would be stretched thin. In the past, large fire seasons have seen National Guard and even regular armed forces pulled in as emergency fire fighters.

There's no word on whether Canadian forests were similarly threatened or whether Canada's extensive forestry sector is aware of the potential hazard.

And now for some Blam!

Posted by TMLutas

Schlock Mercenary has been a favorite of mine for quite a while. It's a classic tale of a rag tag bunch of mercenaries who fly around the galaxy fighting for pay. Of course Sgt. Schlock isn't your everyday standard heroic military character... generally those have a constant number of limbs. Anyway, go read it from the beginning and make up your own mind about it. Just remember to navigate by clicking on the plasma cannon.

July 10, 2003

Will Japan wake up this time?

Posted by TMLutas

It's been a lost decade for Japan but they've always had the ability to fix their own troubles, they just felt too ashamed to do what was needed. Some signs now point to a possible Japanese reflation coming. Look to the value of the yen because it might start to matter again.

Japan reflation will upset the applecart for all the SE Asian Japan wannabe countries who are trying to follow Japan's path to success. They will survive the new competition but it will be very uncomfortable. The more an asian country is delicately balanced doing its own high wire act, the less welcome Japan's re-entry into the world of serious economic players will be. The PRC will likely be very unhappy as it tries to avoid a spectacular crash of its own. Can both these Asian powerhouses grow quickly at the same time? I wonder.

July 09, 2003

One step away from the surveillance state

Posted by TMLutas

Slashdot has an article about yesterday's passage of the 2004 Defense Department Authorization Act. The House of Representatives has inserted language limiting TIA (now Terrorism Information Awareness, nee Total Information Awareness) to military operations conducted entirely overseas or to domestic operations conducted entirely on non-US citizens. Anything else requires explicit Congressional approval (which does not seem to be forthcoming). It's a positive move (in a two steps forward, one step back kind of way) away from the orwellian nightmare of lost liberties that everyone worries over in this war.

The Federation of American Scientists has mirrored the relevant text.

A litle warning, Slashdot has a no-delete policy on its commentary. There are often gems there but also some stuff that should be kept away from the children. Be aware.

Is this thing live?

Posted by TMLutas

Testing... Testing...

Somewhat to my own surprise, Bruce has very graciously granted me front page posting abilities. I will seek to entertain, inform, and not let you all down (especially Bruce). I'm sure it'll be a fun ride for all.

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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